"Breathing" of the air

Hi folks, I would like to ask you the following. With some audiophile set ups I'm able to hear what I call "breathing" of the air, as if the air surrounding voices and instruments is a living entity, as if one is capable of hearing individual air molecules, if you know what I mean. Are you familiar with this phenomenon? Is this quality inherent to some amplifiers or speakers? Can you mention set ups that have these characteristics?

SET amps, very coherent speakers that image well. Other amp designs can do it as well, I just think its more inherent to the SET sound. Clean AC is an absolute necessity as well.
The more air the better....resolving and transparency ability dictate the anount of air present. There is air around and between instruments and then the movement of air through instuments and vocalists. So I think the amount of air signals more tonal quality...Every part of a sound system effects what is heard...so high quality well matched systems will excell.
Air is around 7 to 12 Khz - if you have a system that boost this then you get more "air" - alternatively if you have a speaker with a recessed midrange or "midrange scoop" then you get more air and more bass (boom boom tizz).

IMD distortion, digital hash (jitter) and metal drivers that ring can destroy air by giving it a heavy "etched" sound that is not properly related to the musical context.
'Air' is one of those things that, IMO, all audiophiles think that they are talking the same meaning, when I think you will find that there are several predominate meanings.

For me, 'air' is the ability of speed in a system, in a way that allows for good high frequency detail without harshness. This allows for the reproduction of subtle high frequency cues , part of the harmonic structure of the instrument(s), but also the higher frequency ambient cues that are part of the instrument(s) location and reverberant field in the soundstage.

Systems or equipment that lack this ability can sound either dark or bright; 'air' is not a function of simple tonality. Generally though if the system is bright, it will seem so while at the same time not seeming to have much extention on top.

I would not take my comments as the last word on this subject and I'm interested to see others opinions on the matter.

Great topic. I have wondered about the subject myself. A lot.

My all Zanden system for one. Driving my Dunlvay Vs is almost perfect match. Almost always from top to bottom I can hear 'Air' around instruments and voices. Just like you would if you were to listen, carefully, to live sounds. You can't 'pin' this to one equipment. Although Amps certainly is big factor. Prior to My Zanden 9600 amps, I was using MBL 9008As monos and there was air but not the right amount and or not from top to bottom. Now I think I have the perfect combination. Eerily life like. More so with Zanden digital source than my analog set ups. No etched sound at all. (I almost wish at times to get some etchiness;-))

It is interesting that Shadorne mentions Air around 7 to 12khz. Waht about the Air content below 7 khz. There certainly is lot of air moved at low freqs- low, mid and high bass and even lower to mid mids. To generate sound you have to have air at all freqs- air content varying depending on freqs. Just last night I was listening to this huge drum (avearge human size Taiko drum!) sound from Japanese artist 'KODO' . The sound was just mesmerizing. Air seemed to emnate at the drum and and propel surprisingly quickly at the listening positions with vibrations felt all over without boominess. Gotta be lot of air movement. I was going to start a new thread on this subject to clear the air (;-)) regarding : what is the freq of this associated air from top to bottom freq sounds. Characteristics, harmonics, etc. May be some one can throw more light on this...
I have heard this on two systems .

The best example was while I was demoing some speaker and amp combo's . I then went into the dealers "premier" room with one of the same CD's . That is when I heard it . I asked the dealer what made the difference and he stated that "it is the software ." I didn't know what it meant and could not ask him as he was with another customer at the time .

That setup was some big Cary tube monoblocks , top of the line Cary CDP and preamp feeding Nola's flagship speaker .
The other one was a Krell integrated feeding a pair of Martin Logan's . I don't remeber the accompanying equipment . But talk about the you are there sensation !

It may be interesting to note that neither room was a primo setup . There were no room treatments , all four walls were loaded with equipment and the listening position was in the middle of the carpeted room . But the sound was amazing and , unfortunatly , out of my fiscal ability .

As mentioned above , I think that first the equipment has to be synergistic and then the recording must contain the 'air'. I mention the recording because only one of the tunes , that I tried , from the CD gave me the 'air'. A second and third tune did not . Also , this same song on another one of my system combinations , would put the singer at your feet while the band was behind the speakers and the venue noise was behind the listening position .

Good luck .
Been there,done that got the T-Shirt.Experienced the "breathing" with a REF 3 a Cary V12 and Innersound stats,now I am famaliar with the term"air around the instruments"
When I rotated the REF out of my system the air went with it.That's what I love about the REF it was the only pre I have owned that could do that.
I'll tend to agree with Shandorne on the idea that IMD is what destroys the "air". I think this "etch" in the 7-12K (pick your own numbers here) is mistaken by many to initially be detail but after prolonged exposure the enjoyment just isn't there. When the etch is removed (reducing imd??) suddenly the air appears and everything relaxes. Maybe rather than "Air" i'll chose the phrase "sense of space" I like a big sound that gives me a feel for the space involved. Some people call it 3D sound others holographic and i think they all relate back to the same type of sound. This isn't a simple frequency response thing which leads me to look at the IMD as a possible culprit.

It is interesting that Shadorne mentions Air around 7 to 12khz. What about the Air content below 7 khz. There certainly is lot of air moved at low freqs- low, mid and high bass and even lower to mid mids.

Indeed. I may be misunderstanding Chris. "Air" is a technical term used in the recording industry. Each instrument has a band where you tend to get more "air" - a piano is around 10 to 12 KHZ (this is the sound of the strings after a note - or the sound a grand piano produces in a room when another instrument is played - the air vibrations cause the piano strings to "sing" like a harp only not as much).

Kodo on Naxos is an awesome sounding recording - very lifelike - drums are particularly good for air because you hear all the timbre of the drums - percussion has so much audible "air" because it excites the room and being percussive you don't get "masking" as you do with many instruments (of course it depends how the drums are setup too). Sheffield Labs drum track is another good one.

What I mean by "etched" is exactly how you think of it - imagine an "etching" where a picture is cut from wood with deep grooves...when "air" is correct it sounds light and delicate and related to the instruments and room reverberation....when "air" is heavy or "deeply etched" it means you have mechanical resonance or non-musically related sounds that go on much longer and mask the "air" on the recording. Highly damped speaker drivers will help you hear more air and lower IMD will help too - anything light weight or that has a tendency to resonate in the audible band will tend to mask or rob the natural "air" of the recording by imposing it's own signature (jitter does this)...two cents.
BTW - added "air" from manipulation of the recording by the playback system or harmonic resonance or reverb etc. can be pleasant too. So more "air" can also be used to describe equipment that adds its own signature to the recording.
Well, to chime in, I like Shadorne's two cents and Athmasphere's definition, because my idea of "air" is closely related to what I would call the "aura" around instruments being played, which is so evident in live music and rather difficult to reproduce properly at home, even with the "right" recordings.
"BTW - added "air" from manipulation of the recording by the playback system or harmonic resonance or reverb etc. can be pleasant too. So more "air" can also be used to describe equipment that adds its own signature to the recording."

Agree. I think you can easily be able to discern if this is indeed a manipulation or truer to recording sound, by listening to other cues- lIke fast and quick transients do have air but won't linger on too long vs slower and gentle notes meant to to vibrate will and in case of manipulated sound will not sound entirely in phase and coherent- something will be off.
The first time I ever heard "air" in my system was an amazing thing to me. Went out and told a couple of non-audiophile friends about it...when they evntually came over to visit, I excitedly put on a couple of cd's do demonstrate what I was talking about. After a couple of minutes of listening, they looked at each other and then they looked at me like I was crazy....they couldn't understand what all the fuss was all about. To me, it was sonic bliss.

Man, this is a lonely hobby....kind of like being on earth alone and I can only communicate to other beings on other planets via radio (internet).
"..which is so evident in live music and rather difficult to reproduce properly at home, even with the "right" recordings."

Absolutely agree with Detlof on this. This is one of the many key reasons Stereo systems will never sound like the real thing: recordings can't 'thoroughly' record air and systems can't 'thoroughly' reproduce 'air'. But if done right can come awfully close in creating believable illusion.
Steve Hoffman, the well-known recording engineer calls it the "Breath of Life". I might as well let him explain it. Browse this page of his website. It's fun and you'll learn a lot:
Agree with Atmasphere about the confusion in the "air".

As far as "breathing", in vocals and particularly reed instruments, like sax, my experience leads me towards 2 and 3 inch soft dome mids first and planar ribbon mids second. It's a quality I demand but I'm not saying either is more accurate.
I agree with Detlof.
As far as "breathing", in vocals and particularly reed instruments, like sax, my experience leads me towards 2 and 3 inch soft dome mids first

These type drivers are well damped and yet extremely light - so you get very little "ringing" or coloration - they usually exhibit a very clean waterfall.
if you stand in a room, you don't hear air. if someone is talking, you don't hear air. if someone is playing a piano, you don't hear air/

you hear an instrumentS) in a recording, but you don't hear air.

one can detect physical space, as when an instrument is recorded in a studio or a church.

one can also observe depth, as whena microphone is placed say, 10 feet from an instrument.

i doubt anyone is hearing air, except when someone is breathing, and in that case, one must be close to the source.
It's a descriptive adjective.
It's the air, and 3 dimensionality that really gets to me as an audiophile. I think that it comes from the maintenance of correct phasing throughout the recording and playback chain.
I think tvad and atmasphere (ralph) probally hit it correctly;but there sure a lot of other points of view to consider as well.
Mrtennis there a lot of recordings in which I can hear a artist/player take a breath;or the valves of a instrument opening and closing;what would you consider this,just wondering?
Whatever you call it... I like it and treat it like soundstaging . Just an added bonus/trick of the equipment .

So obviously I agree with Mrtennis's evaluation of it as compared to live .

Rleff ,
I believe that what you are refering to would be considered micro detail .

Happy tunes .
Mrtennis, its true that you don't hear air, its simply the medium. But- the audiophile term 'air' means something different from what you are getting at in your comment. When audiophiles use this term, it implies a quality that the system is doing that is also something you experience in real life. At least this is true for me; refer to my earlier post.
my reference is live music. when attending a symphony orchestra concert, i don't consider the word "air" applicable to my experience of listening to music in the audience.

the term "air" brings to mind the distinction between "audiophile" terms , listening to a stereo system ,and the expoerience of listening to live music.

many terms used to describe the performance of stereo systems are irrelevant to the live music experience.
Of course you hear what we describe as air here in a live concert, Mr.T. Nobody has ever implied that you can hear the air we breathe. When I opened up Audiogon just now I saw your name on top for this thread and wondered what you would have cooked up now. You have not disappointed me. Ever the inventive mind and good for a laugh.
Well, a few random thoughts from the peanut gallery.........

Q 'Air' - Is it additive? That is does it come from the design or implementation of equipment/set up. Or subtractive? That is does it come from the source and does it pass through the system un-changed?

IMHO, being a pin-point imaging nut, with some emphasis on depth of image, I conclude that the only important 'air' I want to hear is in the recording. This information can be masked by the system/set up.

I conclude 'Air' and 'Depth of Image' can, and actually only do, exist, in relationship to the system's resolution/transparency. Dull system - no air. Bright system, maybe some 'air' but lots of long term fatigue. If you have a transparent system, including no 'noise', you might well hear something folks call air, I think.

I sort of agree with Ralph re speed - too much speed usually means fast rise times (good) combined with fast decay (bad) or slow decay (also bad). You have to put on your Goldilock's hat. Appropriate decay time can make a huge difference and IMHO isn't often discussed in relationship to its importance to the naturalness of the sound. But too me that is just one of the issues involved in 'resolution'.

"Air" is one of those audio terms that means different phenomena to different people. That's why I prefer S.H.'s term "breath of life" and even then, some think he's referring to the human voice which he isn't necessarily.

Steve's bottom line for system sonics is: if you don't have lifelike midrange, you've got nothing. If you think about it, that's why, for example, the Quad 57 ESL is still considered one of the great speakers of all time and a standard for perfect midrange. Though it lacks extension (in both directions!) that midrange just hooks you and you forget about its shortcomings.
Is dimensionality different than air? If so, how? Old mono recordings of limited frequency bandwidth can have good dimensionality, especially on vocals.
Onhwy61, Re old mono recordings/dimensionality/voice.

Perhaps it is because a single live voice is, in a sense perhaps, a mono source and mono reproduction is a more natural source for replication. Now a chorus or orchestra needs a more 'natural' replication of the space it takes up in an environment, i.e. at least a since of width (and depth of course) not available in mono reproduction. I have never heard, but would like to some day, hear a SOTA mono recording played back over a dedicated mono system. Be interesting whether or not one could hear 'air'. My guess is that the mono recording would probably have no real sense of depth, even with a mono voice.
You people who don't hear air at a live concert (classical music - no electronic enhancement) are sitting in the wrong seats. Get to the 2nd or 3rd balcony in the very first row with no overhang above you, right in the middle...you will hear air. If the orchestra records, you will be right in line with the microphones.
Now in a more serious vein, -from the popcorn gallery- to paraphrase Newbee: I like what he had to say about this topic. I also think air is either in the recording or it is not. I don't like phase to be screwed around with, because that could give you lots of unnatural "air". A transparent system, with good handling of transients, which by the way took ages for me to build up, will give me an idea of the "aura" around instruments, which I will hear in a live concert in spades and try to implement at home with varying success. In actual fact, it is so difficult to achieve, that many experts here, who've never been to a live event, wouldn't even know what I was talking about. But if you begin to get that right, most of the rest, what our happy crew here thinks important, generally falls into place as well: stable images, pin-point placement of voices and instruments, depth and width of soundfield, not fatiguing rendering of music, PRAT and proper timbre.
To get back to my previous post:
You can put what I said the other way round: If you get all that mas o meno right, hopefully including the start, developing and decay of music at all frequencies as well, from pppp to ffff in the dynamic range mind you, you have a good chance to get that air I'm talking about with a good recording, but only with that and only if your system does not cheat too much on you as it generally does though.
So I'm sad, that I am not Count Esterhazy, who could afford a Haydn and his crew for his stereo. (Not to speak of his living quarters)
The Audio Glossary (http://www.audioxpress.com/bksprods/products/bkaa7-s.htm) Defines "air/airy" as, "Pertaining to treble that sounds light, delicate, open and seemingly unrestricted in upper extension. A quality of reproducing systems having very smooth and very extended HF response." The Complete Guide to High-End Audio (http://www.audioxpress.com/bksprods/products/bkap1.htm) defines "air" as, "Sonic description of treble openness, or of space between intruments in the soundstage. Contrast with dull, thick." I've always thought of it in terms of the sense of open space that I get when listening to music in a live venue, or the space that I sense of the recording venue, when listening at home(if the ambience info is on the disc). That is, of course, "ambience recovery" and is directly related to whatever "air" your system possesses/is capable of. There's a lot of ambience info in the bass ranges, but it seems the "life" or "breath"(of the live experience) is in the highs.
There was an audiophile of Peru,
Who said play me something quite blue;
From his listening chair,
He screamed give me air?
But his Wife did not have a clue.
the musicians of a symphony orchestra are positioned very close to each other. there is very little space between them.

perhaps there is an implied disagreement regarding semantics.

in any case, i think it is more important to minimize timbral errors and then the other audiophile concerns may follow.

does anyone have a recipe for achieving timbral realism ?
We can't forget liquid !
"Liquid" applies to midrange, as "air" applies to treble(general semantics anyway).
Mrtennis, agreed, timbral errors have to be dealt with first. But to do that properly, you must first know what a real instrument, a full orchestra etc. sounds like.
Detlof, you're asking far too much from him.

Just accept his "hot air" and everything will be liquid.

Speaking of turkey, Happy Thanksgiving Mrt.
Bill, Have you thought about being a Pro writer? So much said in such little sentences.
You will make more money that way ;-)
Maybe a Pro hot air generator is more realistic.
Here is Sound 101.
Sound is Energy. Energy In the Air: How Sound is Made.
I read this discussion with much interest. It appears that most agree that "Air" is some sort of phenomena that happens when playing back music and listeners are able to discern distinct traits in the audible queue such as echo, reverb, delay in transients and of course the emotional impact that such one realizes from all of this happening.

I have to agree to some in part about the medium playing a big part in this impression of air. For instance, listening to Poco, Legend (MFSL), I was more aware of the ambience and spatial queue of the instruments and was deeply impressed by the fact that I clearly and distinctly hear the back up vocalists convey their backup portions with subtle but delineated air among the separate mics they were singing into. In other words, the entire vocal section had air and space for me to pick out each individual providing me a sense of more air. On lesser recordings these subtle queue, lips opening and closing, breathing etc, may not be able to convey these fine ques. On a higher resolving system, it is easier to depict and discern the differences of these subtle ques.

Of course, this leads to the other parts of the equation, system and room synergy. We all know what that will do to listening to music if the whole chain is not in synergy.
Funny stuff fender.

I thought high schools were in session yesterday.

Oh well, I guess that's one way to kill time while you work at Wal Mart.
So typical. Always comes down to money with mean spirited types...aka Cavemen....
Mean spirited?

Allow me to point out your pro hot air generator remark which precipitated this exchange.

Perhaps you forgot about it during all the excitement in study hall.

Teacher's pet are you?
My perception ... air on its own we cannot hear, but can be heard once a sound excites air in a space and it reveals the characteristics of the acoustic environment that the sound was made in. I believe this to be the sound of air. I also think not just the high frequencies but all frequencies high-mid-& low are telling of the sound of air.


Tom summarized is correctly. It is the medium displaced/excited in which sound is generated (vibrations generated by instruments)is what we hear. As a Kind of 'halo' around main notes- fundamentals and harmonics. Room acoustics is another entity that may impose its own signature on this 'halo' by allowing it to throughly develop or reduce it or make it dead. I am not sure but you would think you could measure the air disturbances as a change in air pressure- compression and decompression. I am no expert in this but an answer to this or confirmation to this would be to know how the anechoic (sp?) chamber is designed.

What exactly is anechoic chamber? a Room designed not impose sound signature due to room boundaries or and that would you still hear pure 'air' or 'halo' in this chamber?